Pawlenty nabbing big GOP names

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has enlisted a number of GOP strategists from John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, another sign that he’s planning a run for president in 2012.

Pawlenty has snagged a stable of well-known Republicans to help host his first fundraiser for the Freedom First PAC, his new political action committee, according to an invitation to the kickoff event in Washington obtained by The Hill.

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Shoring up the party’s brightest political minds early could prove to be an integral step toward mounting a presidential bid. He’s also making his first official trip of the new presidential cycle to Iowa next month, another important move.

“Lots of folks want to learn more about how Gov. Pawlenty successfully governed as a conservative in a traditionally liberal-leaning state,” said Alex Conant, Pawlenty’s spokesman. “His innovative, conservative leadership is drawing a broad spectrum of people eager to help.”

Among those interested in getting to know Pawlenty are Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Randy Scheunemann, two top policy advisers from the McCain presidential campaign who have joined the Minnesota governor’s host committee.

Pawlenty also has the backing of the entire Minnesota Republican delegation. Reps. Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Erik Paulsen will help Pawlenty host his PAC’s first fundraiser, at Capitol City Brewing Company near Union Station. They will be joined by ex-Rep. Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman who has become a sought-after GOP insider.

Pawlenty will use his PAC to sprinkle donations to key Republican candidates around the country. It is a step many future presidential candidates take, though one that has come exceptionally early.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), a likely opponent in the primary who many see as the early front-runner, has been traveling the country raising money for fellow Republicans as well, something he did extensively in 2008 even after ending his presidential campaign.

Several other potential presidential contenders have yet to get their own efforts off the ground. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is a good bet to enter the competition and will get a major boost next month when her memoir is released. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and one-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), among other possible candidates, have yet to make public moves.

While Romney has a team of tested veterans to rely on if he runs again, Pawlenty is using his PAC to show off some who might come to his aid if he enters the race. Other McCain veterans teaming up with Pawlenty’s PAC are political strategists Bo Harmon, Jon Seaton and Terry Nelson, all of whom played roles in the 2008 campaign.

Pawlenty will hold a more formal kickoff for the PAC on Nov. 4 with a major event in Minneapolis. The following Saturday, he will address the Iowa Republican Party’s annual fall fundraiser, his first foray to the Hawkeye State since campaigning there on McCain’s behalf last year.

Slated for Thursday, Oct. 22, Pawlenty’s Washington kickoff will woo Capitol Hill staffers, many of whom might consider working on the campaign if he decides to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. Congressional staffers will be asked to contribute just $25 to the PAC, half of the suggested donation for the general public.

But aside from staffers who may bring along a résumé, those who have put up the $500 to serve on the host committee demonstrate that Pawlenty already has a following in Washington.

Earlier this month, Pawlenty rolled out a list of political and Web strategists who would serve as top advisers to his PAC — and, presumably, his eventual presidential campaign.

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That list included Phil Musser, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association; Nelson, a veteran of the Iowa caucuses who briefly served as Sen. McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign manager; Sara Taylor, President George W. Bush’s former political director; and Conant, a former press secretary at the Republican National Committee. The Web team includes Patrick Hynes, Liz Mair, Mindy Finn and Patrick Ruffini, all campaign veterans.

Several prominent lobbyists and Washington power players will help Pawlenty host the fundraiser as well. They include Loren Monroe and Bryan Cunningham, of BGR Group; Sloan Rappaport of Downey McGrath Group; and Brian Brooks, a top attorney at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. David Rehr, until June the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, is listed as a member of the PAC’s leadership committee.

Those willing to write big checks can attend a dinner at the home of Debra Anderson and John Milne, a high-powered lobbying couple and Minnesota natives.

An invite to the dinner will cost $5,000.

Milne, formerly the top lobbyist for Minneapolis-based 3M, is now the senior vice president at mCapitol Management. Anderson, a former lobbyist, is retired.